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Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

Opinion

France’s Terri Schiavo shocks the nation with video showing he’s alive

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

PARIS, June 12, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The friends of Vincent Lambert – France’s Terri Schiavo – are true to their promise. Since the European Court of Human Rights ruled on June 5 that there is nothing wrong with deciding to stop giving foods and fluids to a brain-damaged, poly-handicapped person on the strength of hearsay, in order to make him die because “he would not have wanted to live that way,” France has awakened with a shock to the fact that the young man is alive.

On the day of the hearing in Strasbourg last Friday, a college friend of Vincent, Emmanuel Guépin, went to visit Vincent together with the young man’s half-brother, David, and his father, Pierre Lambert. They filmed Vincent when his mother called him from Strasbourg, apparently listening to the mobile phone held to his ear. They filmed him looking intently at his brother, following David with his eyes. They filmed the movements of his face, reacting with his brother.

The two and a half minute video was posted on the Vincent Lambert support website, jesoutiensvincent.com, this Wednesday. It spilled over onto conservative blogs and Youtube. BFMTV, a private, but mainstream news channel aired the film. From then on there was no stopping it. All the major news sources showed the short video in full, and for hours around the clock news media commented on the images.

They have created a shockwave that supporters of Vincent Lambert’s “end of life” are finding it hard to stop. For the first time, hundreds of thousands of people have seen with their own eyes that Vincent Lambert is not hooked up to complicated machines or monitoring apparatus. They have seen him, eyes wide open, looking intently at someone who speaks to him and following him with his eyes. They have seen him for what he is: a fragile, deeply handicapped human being, but a human being who is alive.

On Youtube, the video has already been watched over 500,000 times. That is not counting the many sites – Catholic and conservative news sites, prolife associations, but also the mainstream media – that posted the video on their own sites.

The effect is devastating for those who want Vincent Lambert’s purported desire not to continue living in his present state to be honored. That is: his former doctor, Eric Kariger, who took the decision to let the young man starve to death in the first place; his wife Rachel, who claims he several times had said he did not want to be kept alive in the event of becoming deeply handicapped; and a whole lobby of supporters of France’s coming end of life legislation, which aims to institutionalize deep and continuous sedation together with the withdrawal of food and fluids for end of life situations and ill or handicapped persons whose situation is not expected to improve.

During the first few hours after the video was posted, Jerôme Triomphe, one of the lawyers who represents the part of Vincent’s family who wants his life to be respected, received dozens of phone calls from journalists who were surprised and shocked to see that Vincent is alive.

But two hours later, the affair was again under control – or at least, so they thought. Doctors explained that people in a vegetative state appear to react to their environment, but that their reactions are purely automatic and are no sign of consciousness of the outside world or self-consciousness. Rachel Lambert insisted on countless radio and TV sources that the video says nothing new about her husband’s health. “Hurt” and “sad,” she argued that his eyes should have been blurred out.

Eric Kariger said the video constitutes a dramatic “manipulation,” and a “lack of respect for the patient, his wife and his daughter who cannot mourn properly because of this relentnessness on the part of their own family.” He claimed no one can make a proper diagnosis on the faith of a two minute-film, adding that Lambert has been diagnosed as being in a “grave and irreversible vegetative state.”

This is not true: experts who examined him during the last stages of the judicial process initiated by Viviane and Pierre Lambert in order to prevent him from being let die of thirst used cautious language, saying that what they had seen, in the few hours of direct examination that took place, was “probably” consistent with a vegetative state. Examination results only varied slightly compared to a previous diagnosis that deemed Lambert in a “minimally conscious state”: a state that is by nature fluctuating.

Doctors specialized in the direct care of “minimally conscious” patients, such as Dr Jeanblanc of Strasbourg, who is prepared to welcome Lambert in his own special unit for brain-damaged persons, on the other hand, have testified that Lambert is certainly awake and aware, and even more so than most, at the times when his consciousness is at its highest. Xavier Ducrocq, professor of neurology and medical ethics, who examined Lambert several times at the request of his parents, is of the same opinion.

They are not being interviewed by the mainstream media, however, and the story now is that Lambert may seem to be alive and aware, but that he is as good as dead.

But the video’s impact is making that hard to accept. Viviane Lambert and her lawyers are being stopped in the street, at the baker’s or at the bank by people who saw the video, and who are telling them to remain strong. They add that they had never realized Vincent was “like that.”

Up to now, most of the mainstream press had been careful not to speak of Lambert as a living person, describing him as being “in coma” and artificially kept alive by feeding tubes.

Such was the panic of the euthanasia lobby that the CSA (France’s official audiovisual broadcasting watchdog) was seized in the early afternoon of Wednesday. Hours later, the CSA ordered all French television stations to broadcast the video with Lambert’s face blurred, but it does not have the authority to pull it down from the Internet where it is still widely available.

Kariger’s statements about the indecency of the video are in stark contrast with his own initiative to give a televised interview at Lambert’s bedside in 2014 in which his eyes and face were blurred, increasing the impression of a dehumanized person while the camera lingered on his atrophied arms and clinched hands. Kariger, wearing medical scrubs, spoke of Lambert in the past tense, as if he were already dead.

“The real indecency,” commented Triomphe, “is to want to kill a man who is alive and who needs care that he is not receiving.”

A well-known media decryption program, “Arrêt sur images” (“Freeze Frame”) called the video a “weapon of mass persuasion.” “Never has the bewitching power of an image been so evident. Never has our helplessness before its power of manipulation been so close,” writes the founder of the program.

The truth is that manipulation of images is all in a day’s work for the mainstream media. When once, in a way, the underdog gets through to the public by showing pictures that are expected not to be shown widely, the whole system is turned upside down.

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